The gangly 26-year-old came through stage 7 unscathed Tuesday to remain second overall in the classification, just 18 seconds behind Richard Carapaz and with a slender advantage over Dan Martin and Primož Roglič, leaving him perfectly placed ahead of three major mountain tests this week.
“You can see here at the Vuelta a España [Carthy’s] a contender, which is phenomenal, amazing to see,” Chris Froome told ITV Sport ahead of Tuesday’s stage through the Basque hills.
Carthy came into the Vuelta as one of a pack of stage-hunters for EF Pro Cycling alongside the likes of Daniel Martínez, Magnus Cort, and winner of Tuesday’s stage, Michael Woods. The American squad’s initial plan was for Carthy to be protected by anyone not in the breakaway in a loose semblance of a GC bid. However, one week later, Carthy has elevated himself to become a bona fide red jersey contender.
The Brit slipped into the top-6 in the tough opening salvo of stages through the hills of northern Spain and has continued the momentum from there, hanging tough on the attritional stage to Formigal on Sunday. Carthy finished eighth on a gritty day in the mountains while his nearest GC rivals faltered, vaulting himself up to second overall.
“So far so good, I can’t complain so far,” Carthy said Tuesday morning. “Everything’s gone quite well, but I think there’s still a long way to go.
“I’m not nervous, I’m past that point now,” he said. “I’ve had a good first week and proven myself as the top level, so I feel like I’ve lifted a weight off my own shoulders. But there’s a long way to go and I really want to finish the job off and confirm it over the three weeks.”
Carthy’s rise to the top in Spain is something a coming of age for the rider now in his fourth WorldTour season, all spent with the Slipstream squad.
The lanky climber has long been known for the strength of his mountain legs, taking GC top-6s at the Tour of Utah and Colorado Classic in 2018 before scoring top results on mountain stages at last year’s Giro d’Italia. A day-long breakaway victory in the “queen stage” of the 2019 Tour de Suisse was a high point.
Wednesday’s tough summit finish to Alto de Moncalvillo and a pair of extra-tough mountain stages – including Farrapona on Saturday and Sunday’s finale atop the fearsome Alto de l’Angliru – should put Carthy in his element. However, the Vuelta’s 33.7km time trial next Tuesday could prove a tough hurdle against the big motors of the likes of Roglič.
“I can remember first seeing Hugh Carthy in the early season three or four years ago in some of the smaller races before the Giro and the Tour,” Froome said Tuesday.
“I can remember thinking he’s got a lot of talent – he’s got a massive engine the guy was climbing phenomenally,” Froome continued. “But other aspects weren’t there, he didn’t have the experience. Like myself when I first came to pro racing, his positioning was terrible, descending wasn’t great, but I think over the years you can see he’s worked on all of those aspects.
“It’s still yet to be seen how much he’s worked on his time trialing, that’s probably going to be his Achilles heel, but for the job he’s done so far, you can really say chapeau.”
Off the bike, north-England-born Carthy has the same dry, understated humor and laid-back demeanor that makes for a Venn diagram of former British champions Bradley Wiggins, Geraint Thomas and Simon Yates. On the bike, he could well be following in their grand tour-winning footsteps by the time the race reaches Madrid next weekend.
“When I’m in good form I can do more than what people expect,” Carthy said last week.
For now, that expectation has been cranked up a notch.